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History of Plymouth Plantation

by William Bradford

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How would you summarize the "Indian Relations" excerpt in History of Plymouth Plantation?

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Summarizing a text requires you to use your own words (for the most part) to re-state a work's most important points with accuracy and brevity. Unlike argument, in which you take a particular point of view on a subject, when writing a summary, you are not evaluating or judging a work but simply telling your reader what the principal points are. Although the section your question focuses on recounts an important episode in Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation, Bradford discusses other aspects of the Pilgrim's experience with Native Americans—such as the Pequot War—in other chapters.

To understand and summarize accurately the section on "Indian Relations" in book 2, it helps to know what preconceptions the Pilgrims had about the Native Americans. In book 1, chapter 4, for example, Bradford discusses all the dangers waiting for the Pilgrims, which includes those imposed by Native Americans:

the savage people, who are cruel, barbarous and most treacherous, being most furious in their rage and merciless where they overcome. (1.4.26)

This preconception is based on the Pilgrims having heard and read accounts of encounters between the English, French, and Native Americans as far south as Virginia, and the Pilgrims have no reason not to expect trouble should an encounter occur.

In his section on "Indian Relations," Bradford recounts a very different experience from the one he expects. After describing an encounter between a small group of Pilgrims and Native Americans in which the Pilgrims' tools are taken, Bradford discusses the Pilgrims' meeting with Samoset, an Algonquin chief originally from Maine, who

became profitable to them in acquainting them with many things concerning the state of the country. (2.11.79)

This meeting is momentous in that it introduces the Pilgrims to a Native American who does not fit the paradigm they expect and leads quickly to another meeting with Massasoit, chief of the local Wampanoag tribe in what is now Rhode Island, and Squanto, a local Native American who had been in England and served as a reliable interpreter between the Pilgrims and Native Americans.

After exchanging gifts, the Pilgrims and Massasoit establish the grounds for peaceful relations, which include an agreement to leave in other in peace; to render aid to each other in case of attack from a third party; to return anything stolen from the other group; to approach the Pilgrims without their weapons; and to insure that other Native American tribes affiliated with the Wampanoags understand the agreement between Massasoit's tribe and the Pilgrims and abide by its terms. Bradford notes that this treaty "hath now continued this 24 years."

Squanto continues to stay with the Pilgrims after Massasoit returns to his tribe and teaches the Pilgrim's how to sustain themselves in this unfamiliar land:

He directed them how to set their corn, where to take fish, and to procure other commodities, and was also their pilot to bring them to unknown places for their profit. (2.11.81)

Bradford then recounts Squanto's history—taken by an Englishman to be sold as a slave in Spain; Squanto's escape to England and eventual return to England. This leads Bradford to a lengthy and detailed account of an Englishman named Dermer and his struggles with a number of tribes, including the Wampanoag tribe of Massasoit, most likely in 1619, including an account of a French ship wrecked on the cape and most of its surviving crew massacred by the Native Americans, with several having been tortured to death by various tribes.

Dermer speculates that the Native American's are reluctant to introduce themselves to the English because they assume any English have arrived to revenge the killing of the French. Dermer is also responsible for Squanto's release from captivity and return to the Cape Cod area.

This section ends with Bradford's account of illness increasing "the mortality" among the Pilgrims and their eventual recovery as "the Lord...upheld them."

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Bradford discusses the pilgrims' first interaction with Native Americans towards the beginning of the second book, in the year 1620. The Indians “sometimes show them selves aloofe of, but when any aproached near them, they would rune away.“ There was the theft of some tools. Eventially an Indian name Samoset “came bouldly amongst them” and spoke to them in broken English. Samoset had met other English ships before, which had come to fish, and had learned his English from those men, some of whom he called by name. During his visit, Samoset taught the English many things about their new home, including information about surrounding tribes, their numbers, and where they lived.

Samoset made a second visit, to prepare the pilgrims for a visit from “their great Sachem” or chief Massasoyt, who arrived a few days later with Squanto, an Indian who had travelled to England and spoke better English. With Squanto as interpreter, Massasoyt negotiated a peace with the settlers, comprising six points:

1. They pledged not to “injure or doe hurte” to each other.

2. If any did injure the other party, the offender would be sent to the people injured for punishment.

3. All stolen property will be returned.

4. They pledged to defend each other against attackers.

5. Each side should send ‘confederats” to the other to certify the peace.

6. When the Indians came among the English, they would come unarmed.

As Bradford notes, this peace has lasted up to the present day, or “this 24 years.”

Squanto continued with the Pilgrims for many years afterwards, helping them to plant corn, teaching them the best fishing places, and serving as a guide as they explored the surrounding territory. Bradford called him a “special intstrument sent of God for their good.”

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Assuming this question is referring to the early encounters between the settlers and the Wampanoags, described near the beginning of the second book, the most important aspect of the narrative is the encounter with Samoset. Samoset approaches them "bouldly" and speaks in "broken English," which they marvel at. He learned English from fishermen who had previously visited the region. Even more remarkable, Samoset reveals that another Native man, Squanto, has actually been to England and speaks very good English. Squanto visits the Pilgrims along with the sachem Massasoit, and the two parties make a six-part agreement to observe a mutual peace and even support the other in case of war with a third party. Massasoit, we know now, was threatened by the area Narragansetts and concluded this alliance out of self-interest, just as the Pilgrims did. Squanto remained with the Pilgrims, serving as a guide and teaching them how to fish and "set their carne." Thus was born a relationship that helped Plymouth survive. Here, as throughout the book, Bradford observes the hand of God in the development of (temporarily) friendly relations between the Wampanoags and Plymouth.

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For months, Indians watched the English and stole some tools but made no overtures until Samoset approached in March and spoke to them in broken English.  He told the English about the number of natives in the area, who led them, and what the outlying area was like.

Shortly thereafter, Samoset returned with a small group of natives who returned the stolen tools.  They exchanged gifts and learned that Massasoit, a sachem, and a chief would soon arrive. 

Massasoit arrived, along with Squanto, who had been to England and spoke English well. The English and the natives exchanged gifts and entertainment and then the two groups drew up a six-part agreement that ensured the peace, safety, and communication of all concerned.

The other Indians returned to their respective areas, but Squanto stayed behind with the English and helped them to fish, hunt, plant, and navigate the area.

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